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24 Frames chat: The fate of 'The King's Speech,' and other prognostications on the fall

September 23, 2010 |  9:30 am

The season’s most important film festivals are behind us, as are the end-of-summer doldrums. That means the best of the fall and holiday movies are now set to arrive -- a smashup derby of highbrow dramas (and the occasional comedy) competing for not only awards attention but also box-office traction.

One of the better indications of how these films will perform in theaters is how they played at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Film reporters John Horn and Steven Zeitchik covered these two festivals and returned with a sense of what we can expect from the months ahead. Their conversation follows.

John Horn: One of the more important film-festival awards is Toronto’s People’s Choice audience award—the list of recent winners includes “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Whale Rider” and “American Beauty.” Will that prize boost the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech”?

Steven Zeitchik: I was surprised by how many people whom I wouldn’t have expected to like "The King's Speech" came out of the Toronto screenings raving about the movie. But when I mentioned the film to people back home, some could barely suppress a yawn.

JH: It’s like “The Queen”—the more you try to describe it, the worse it sounds, When you say “The King’s Speech” is about a royal stuttering problem, it’s both accurate and totally wrong.

SZ: It's also the kind of movie a lot of film-goers feel that they’ve seen before -- a repressed monarch learns to get in touch with his feelings, the crown is redeemed, God save the Queen. But it transcends that genre too. The key will be getting audiences to see it. If you can get enough people to do that, the word of mouth will take care of the rest.

JH: Fox Searchlight’s "Black Swan," from director Darren Aronofsky, played well at both Telluride and Toronto. But is it the kind of film that tends to do better at festivals than in the real world?

SZ: Actually, I'm not sure that's true. To me, it feels a little like an art-house “Inception” -- there’s such intrigue around the premise (and, okay, the Natalie Portman-Mila Kunis lesbian love scene) that I think a lot of people will turn out, if only to see what all the fuss is about.

JH: This coming from the guy who said Focus Features’ “The Kids Are All Right” wasn’t going to gross $15 million.

SZ: I will never again underestimate the box-office potential of movies with lesbian themes.

JH: The hardest movie for me to read is Fox Searchlight’s "127 Hours." We know the ending—hiker cuts off his hand and is rescued. Will that also amputate its box-office reach? And with all the talk of people fainting at screenings, what might have worked for William Castle in the 1950s could actually be more of a liability than a sales hook.

SZ: There is a little bit of the Six Flags "Not for the faint of heart" tag on this one, which won't help. But once people realize the film isn't that graphic, I think they'll come see it. Star James Franco and director Danny Boyle can generate a lot of goodwill. Plus there's a happy ending. Sort of.

JH: It seemed like Ben Affleck (“The Town”) did better in Toronto than his brother Casey (the Joaquin Phoenix fauxumentary “I’m Still Here”).

SZ: There are rumors that, for his new movie, Ben will follow Casey around and film him having a breakdown after seeing the box-office numbers for “I'm Still Here.” Seriously, though, it’s always a risk to bring a big commercial movie like "The Town" to Toronto, which tends to be a little more rarefied. But the response was very favorable, and I think the media buzz coming out of the festival helped with its strong opening weekend. “I'm Still Here” played a modest premiere, and that was pretty much all I heard about it.

JH: I haven’t heard you saying much about Fox Searchlight’s legal drama “Conviction” with Hilary Swank. Is it headed to death row?

SZ: Searchlight says its warm Toronto response bodes well for its prospects. But it was not a title I heard a lot of festivalgoers talking about.

JH: When I left Telluride, people were really split about “Never Let Me Go.” The reviews so far have been surprisingly mixed, and while it did good business in limited release last weekend, I wonder if it will be this year’s “Bright Star”—a festival darling that never quite takes off in theaters.

SZ: I think the movie has a lot more going for it than "Bright Star" -- it’s a book a lot of people read and loved, it features stars such as Carey Mulligan, and there’s a science-fiction premise at its center. But I’m afraid you may be right – it’s reading as precious and sterile to some film-goers. I also wonder if it was hurt by coming out so early. I’m just not sure audiences are ready for such a glum mood piece right on the heels of summer.

JH: The movie that I think gained the most in Telluride was the French-Canadian drama “Incendies,” which Sony Pictures Classics promptly picked up. What was the Toronto title that came out of nowhere?

SZ: A lot of people liked the Welsh coming-of-age comedy “Submarine,” which the Weinstein Co. picked up. “Rabbit Hole” pleasantly surprised a lot of people—no one really knew what to make of John Cameron Mitchell directing a drama about a grieving mother. But it drew good reviews, and Lionsgate will give it and star Nicole Kidman a big Oscar push.

JH: It’s clear it’s also going to be a great fall and holiday season for some big-name directors. In addition to Boyle (“127 Hours”) and Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), there’s David Fincher (“The Social Network”), Clint Eastwood (“Hereafter”), James Brooks (“How Do You Know”) and the Coen Brothers (“True Grit”).

SZ: After all the talk we’ve heard about Hollywood in recent years being driven more by the brand than the  filmmaker, we have a strong crop of veteran directors this fall, each doing things their own way (though, admittedly, often on the margins of the studio system). It will certainly make for an interesting best- director race.



Photo: The King's Speech. Credit: The Weinstein Co.


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True Life Material proves irresistible at Telluride

Danny Boyle's 127 Hours cuts an impressive swath

Toronto 2010: Black Swan gets an academy dry run

Toronto 2010: Danny Boyle's 127 Hours looks to come in from the cold